It was a sunny day when I met her. I’d been wandering about in the overgrown fields adjacent to the council flats that I called home on the South Downs. Deep into the six weeks of school holidays my friends were either away with their parents or staying over at elderly relatives’ houses to give their tired guardians a break before the ensuing madness that accompanies the start of every school year. This September would be the beginning of the end for my friends and me. The last year of Middle School before the big step up.
Coming from a household where the family holiday included the visit to the previous generation, our away time was now done. Now, seemingly the only child on the estate, I freely explored the surrounding area, which to be quite frank, was boring as hell. Though the sunshine was beautiful and the truly amazing experience of meeting a slow worm in the long grass was the stuff my dreams would typically be full of, without my band of brothers and sisters, time just ticked away so slowly.
Keeping time was not my strong point. You could go as far as to say I was as good at keeping time as a Rally Grifter was at being a mode of public transport. My dad had tried to get me to wear a watch once.
“This will stop you coming home late,” he said, strapping it to my wrist. But the bulkiness of the thing felt uncomfortable and, within the first hour of wearing it, the poor thing came to a rather abrupt end. Though I must admit, had I not had it on, my wrist would have taken the full impact of the collision with a concrete fence post as I fell out of the tree.
So on this bright, warm, sticky day, as time moved slowly across the sky, I was disconnected from the world of people, and lost in the lonely, dull life of no one to play with; that was until I met her.
I’d wandered across the field, down the concrete steps leading to the noisy grey factories of the industrial estate, across a yard full of discarded wooden pallets, and up the hill on the other side. Being as it was the school holidays, the road was quiet and crossing over to the Stammer Woods was relatively risk-free. The small path, made by years of walkers, was overgrown, only the slight balding of grass at its start gave away the entrance.
As an experienced adventurer, I found myself a suitable swishing stick and headed into the dark shadows of the trees. Under the canopy the sun’s heat, though significantly reduced, still warmed the thick sticky air. In these shadows I was no longer on the South Downs, now I was in the Orc infested forests of Doomladen from the Rune Quest adventures run by my best friend, Dylan.
He was away in Cornwall, so the campaign was currently on hold. My Dwarf character, Thorach, along with his party, the majestic elven wizard Trintus, the fierce barbarian hunter Maxim and a curious scholar thief Grangdon, searched the lands for treasures of legend so that their feats would be written in song.
Now, separated from the party, it was up to me to find adventure and get out of this dark and mysterious place, handsomely rewarded and alive. My swisher was now my double-headed battle-axe, which I held with both my hands. I was ready for any battles that might befall me. With great care and bravery, I ventured forth to take on evil.
Time was even more removed from my conscious mind as I moved deeper and deeper into the belly of the woods. The trees whispered around me, telling stories of times gone, and battles fought. I had no time for idle chit-chat: there was a wrong somewhere that needed righting. Suddenly my attention was taken by something white poking out of the undergrowth.
The closer I got, the more I could see. A girl, older than me but not an adult, was lying on the ground. Most of her body was hidden from view by branches and torn up bushes that looked like they had been dragged there. I could see her white blouse was soiled and torn, her shoeless feet marked by the brambles, her flowery skirt mixing with the foliage to hide her legs. I approached with caution. Her eyes were closed. Softly I reached forward with my axe and pushed her shoulder. There was no response. I did this a second time.
“Are you OK?”
She opened her eyes and breathed in deep with the shock of being woken up. In turn, I jumped and let out a loud yell. The moment passed. It was a combination of valour and curiosity that gave me the strength not to run away.
Without using the axe as a prodding stick, I asked again, “Are you OK?”
She glanced around at the forest, “I can’t move my legs,” her eyes moved towards her body. “Or my arms.”
She started to cry. I quickly moved across to her and took her in my arms, offering comfort.
“I need to go and get help.”
“No!” She was frightened. “Please don’t leave me.”
I brushed my hand across her muddied, matted brown hair. “Shhhh, it’s ok.”
“But the Orcs, they…”
“They can’t hurt you now.”
Killing Orcs was my speciality. I told her tales of castle raids and massive battles. How once, using my magic reloading, five-bolt crossbow, I cut an Orc clean in two with a single shot.
“Oh, the gods were smiling on me that day.”
She smiled. The presence of a hero, albeit a short, wide, very hairy bearded one, had made her feel safe. I knew the song that would tell this tale over many a tankard of ale would be joyous indeed.
Her attention became sharply taken by the snapping of a twig not far from our position. I looked up to see many men, some with dogs making their way through the trees. The thick trunks broke the lights of their torches as they scanned the area. When I looked down to tell her everything was going to be alright, she was no longer in my arms. She was again under branches, barely visible in the dark. I was crying and screaming, “Help!”
Once the people got over to me, I was quickly taken away from her. My mother was waiting when the police returned me to the flat. She held me in her arms so tightly that it felt like she never wanted to let go ever again. I could hear her crying, and every so often, her grip would tighten. Soon my father returned from the search party, which allowed my mum to relinquish her hug, allowing me a moment of breath before he similarly embraced me.
That night I spent in silence. My brother asked a couple of times if I was OK, to which I just nodded. I didn’t sleep that night. Every time I closed my eyes, I could see her face.
It wasn’t until the next day that I found out who she was; a girl named Lisa Turpnal from a council estate over the hill. She had been missing for three days. It turned out that I had also been reported as missing having not been seen since 10 o’clock that morning.
I met her parents a few days later. They thanked me for finding her. I apologised for not being able to save her. These words seemed to make all the adults cry, so I never said them again. The rest of the holidays I spent in adult company.